Sunday, December 7, 2008

Further Ruminations on Ocean v. Flatwater

I had big plans to paddle today with pals around Eagle's Island in a big loop that starts and ends at the foot of Castle St. in downtown Wilmington. Sadly, however, I'm laid up with sore throat, cough, congestion, and lethargy. So I had to bail on a paddle that I'd been looking forward to, but that's the way it goes. Better to rest up and get healthy than push it and end up in a bad situation.

So, I've been thinking more on being on the open water in a kayak. It's a little funny that I don't feel more comfortable with it, given the amount of time I've spent wave sliding and playing on the edge of our continent. Both times I've been out, I've been struck with a feeling that is something akin to helplessness. The knowledge of one's own skills and the ability to perform self rescues and otherwise deal with dicey situations is important, especially when paddling alone. This is true in the calmest waters, but still so much more so when we venture into the ocean. There is a proverb in Hawaii: Never turn your back on the ocean. I'm not scared of it, but I have a healthy respect for its power. That's part of the allure, I think. She (the ocean) is vast and full of life, and she can be beautiful and placid one moment, and your worst nightmare the next. She's moody and fitful, and willing to humble just as soon as you feel the slightest bit over-confident. A couple of years ago I was surfing a favorite spot in Carolina Beach with a friend. It was mid-July and we were trading thick, glassy, head-high waves at the end of the day with just two other people out. It was idyllic. We watched a big cloud march steadily towards us from the north. It looked like a giant grey burrito in the sky, and it curved in a gentle arc from land to sea. When it finally got to us, I watched a line in the water. On the south side of the line there was no wind; it was calm and peaceful. On the other side, there was a 35 mph gale. It was like walking out of your house into a storm; there was a visible and obvious demarcation that separated the two weather types. With the wind came rain and the sky turned grey and ominous. It took all my strength to paddle in and then fight my board 100 yards up wind to the parking lot. I remember thinking that we'd better get into the cars or we would be struck by lighting. I was running, I thought, literally for my life, because I just knew it would start any second. I'm glad I had that experience, because I can look to that as an example of how quickly things can change, and how I need to stay on my toes out there. Or, to use a nautical phrase, we all need to keep a weather-eye open.

In closing, I offer a little unrelated workplace anecdote. I work in a bicycle shop. Yesterday I approached a middle-aged man and, as I customarily do, asked if he was finding everything OK, and if he had any questions. He assured me that he was fine, and that everything was "explanatory." "Self-explanatory?" I quiped, to which he could merely nod. It's going down in my favorite moments in customer service history.

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